In various posts since September 18, we have explored US imperialism. Let us conclude our reflection on the theme.
The period of 1898 to 1932 saw the consolidation of imperialism as a basic principle of US policy. Imperialism sought the attainment of new markets for surplus US production through military interventions and “dollar diplomacy.” In establishing itself, imperialism had to overcome a strong tendency toward isolationism in US political culture. This isolationist tendency was a consequence of a prevailing view that the United States was different from and more democratic than the nations of Europe, and there was a consequent desire to avoid entanglement in European wars. Isolationism was an important factor in US delays in entering the two World Wars, although in both cases the United States provided supplies to allies from the outset. In US public discourse of the period, conservatives were isolationists, and liberals promoted imperialist interventions in Latin America.
In the period of 1933 to 1945, imperialism adopted a softer strategy, seeking to appear as a “good neighbor.” The quest for new markets, for control of existing markets, and for access to cheap raw materials continued, but the forms of intervention in Latin America were more indirect. This softer form of imperialism was promoted by liberals, personified by the powerful figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt envisioned significant reforms in the world-system for the post-World War II period, but his vision was eclipsed by the Cold War.
In the period of 1945-79, the United States emerged as the hegemonic core power of the neocolonial world-system, and US imperialist interventions became more global in scope. The Cold War provided a justification for more active intervention than was characteristic of the “good neighbor” era. But important components of the previous period were preserved, such as depending primarily on military repression by the neocolonial state, with direct US military intervention applied only when necessary. Conservatives promoted an aggressive Cold War approach, but liberals shared the basic premises of the Cold War and imperialist policy, forming a liberal-conservative consensus. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress was a short-lived and unsuccessful reformist approach, but even during the Kennedy Administration the Cold War assumptions that justified indirect and sometimes barbaric interventions in the Third World prevailed.
In the context of the deep structural crisis of the world-system and the US fall from hegemony, the nation has turned to the right since 1980. The neoliberal project was imposed, taking advantage of external debt, through free trade agreements and international finance agencies. Military intervention in pursuit of US interests has been constant. These policies have been justified on the grounds that they defend democracy, understood in the liberal and limited sense of political rights and economic liberty. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, US national political leaders struggled to find an enemy that could be portrayed as a threat to democratic values. The attacks of September 11, 2001 made possible the establishment of the “war on terrorism” as the prevailing ideological frame for the justification of imperialist interventions.
Thus we can see that imperialism has been a policy actively pursued with continuity by US governments from 1898 to the present. During the course of the twentieth century, when Latin American reformers and revolutionaries spoke of“Yankee imperialism,” they were not merely inventing popular political slogans. They were naming an important component of the relation between the two Americas, a relation that promoted the development of the America to the north as it promoted the underdevelopment of the America to the south. Since 1933, imperialist policies have been presented with a democratic face. But imperialist policies, in essence, have involved the pursuit of markets, raw materials and sources of profits, without regard for the consequences for the sovereign rights of formally independent nations or for the social and economic rights of their citizens.
Imperialist policies have practical objectives, and they have provided concrete material benefits to the people of the United States. They have been a significant factor in providing the United States with additional markets, new sources of investment and profit, and access to cheap raw materials, and they therefore were central to the ascent of the United States from 1898 to 1968.
However, the imperialist polices of the global powers are no longer practical. When the world-system reached the geographical limits of the earth around the middle of the twentieth century, a new situation was created. In the present historic moment, the aggressive quest for control of the raw materials, labor and markets of the planet by the global powers creates political instability in the world-system, generating endless conflicts and wars, and it threatens the ecological balance of the earth. If the world-system continues to accept the notion that powerful nations have the right to promote and defend their interests, without concern for the interests and needs of other nations and peoples, it will collapse into chaos.
And imperialism is no longer in the interests of the people of the United States. The expansion of military expenditures, necessary for the implementation of imperialist policies, diverts limited resources away from investments in new and sustainable forms of economic production that would provide concrete benefits to the people. Furthermore, paying for military expenditures through government debt financed with foreign sources of capital undermines the sovereignty of the nation.
Therefore, in the present historic moment, we the people of the United States have the duty to form a popular movement that would intend to take power and to adopt policies that responsibly promote the interests of the popular sectors, including anti-imperialist policies that seek cooperation with the movements and governments of the Third World in creating a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, just democratic sustainable world